The wait, mercifully, is over.
What was once a close Big Ten grind got quickly out of hand after Wisconsin ended five straight possessions over 2:07 with three points – three three-pointers from All-American Jordan Taylor, one from Josh Gasser and an old-fashioned one from Ryan Evans – that resulted in a 15-2 run that helped dispelled the Wildcats, 77-57, Wednesday at the Kohl Center.
Four Badgers scored in double figures and five had at least eight points as Wisconsin (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten) shot 50 percent from the floor for the eighth time this season but for the first time since Dec.27.
"Everybody goes through this with shooting," said UW coach Bo Ryan, who improved to 15-4 all time against the Wildcats. "I've seen in more in the past couple years than probably 10 years combined just the swings in shooting percentages, guys' confidence, guys being comfortable in what they're doing."
It's evident that the comfort returned from three-point range. Shooting 43 percent or better in four of its first six nonconference games, Wisconsin shot a combined 10 of 68 (14.7 percent) from three-point range in its first three Big Ten home games. Against Northwestern, Wisconsin knocked in 12 three-pointers, shot 52.2 percent from distance and six different players drained a perimeter shot.
The 12 threes were the most Wisconsin made since Nov.26 and made the Wildcats (12-6, 2-4), and their a depleted roster, switch between man and their 1-3-1 zone defense to try and find anything that could slow a UW offense that seemed determined to finally knock down some shots.
"We were just trying to change it around, but they found we were late getting … pressure on the ball like there needed to be," said Northwestern coach Bill Carmody, whose team has lost five straight games to UW by an average of 16.8 points. "They handled both our man and 1-3-1 very well."
At times this season, it was evident that one three-point shot could have rewritten the entire story. Wisconsin attempted at least 19 three-pointers in all five of its losses this season and the Badgers made more than five three-pointers only twice.
So when Taylor started hitting his second-half three-pointers, it drew shades of his second-half performance against Ohio State last season, which also included everybody else chipping in at some point. Starting with the three-pointers, Wisconsin went on a 30-9 run over a nine-minute stretch that was headlined by the perimeter shooting, production in the post, 6-for-7 on free throws and a 4-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"We're doing a better job of moving without the ball and passing up shots for good shots," said Taylor, who moved into 15th place on UW's all-time scoring list with 1,278 points. "When shots go down, it's kind of contagious. You build up confidence in your teammates."
Staring at the stat sheet, it's hard to determine which player gave Wisconsin the biggest lift. Evans missed his only three-point attempt, but led the team in points (17), rebounds (9) and scored 15 in the second half. Taylor scored 12 of his 15 in the second half thanks to four three-pointers, three coming on that decisive run, and a 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Throw in Mike Bruesewitz's 13 points, Gasser's 10 points, a 17-1 margin in bench points and UW holding Northwestern's John Shurna (leading Big Ten scorer) and Drew Crawford (third leading scorer) to 4 of 12 in the second half, it was a complete effort.
"Our scoring is so balanced that the other team has got to cover everybody on our team every night," said Evans. "That's big because you don't know who is going to get hot and you can't focus on one person."
Wisconsin shot 46.2 percent in the first half – far from the blazing start Northwestern (54.5 percent) unleashed – but led 34-32 because Bruesewitz found his offense. In search of consistency since he shot 57.1 percent and averaged 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on a sprained knee in last year's NCAA Tournament, Bruesewitz entered the game averaging just 6.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 fouls a game despite increase in playing time.
Wednesday, Bruesewitz scored 12 of his career-high-tying 13 points in the first half, hitting 5 of his 6 shots and both of his three-pointers.
"Mike kept us in the game, without a doubt," said Evans. "Being the energizer was just huge for us in the first half."
In addition to his scoring, Bruesewitz has provided a boost with his scrappy play. He poked the ball away from Shurna (who finished with a game-high 19 points) that prevents the Wildcats from attempting a shot as the first half expired, he had a team-high two steals, one block, an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4-1 and continued the trend of grabbing key rebounds like the ones that helped UW in each of its last two wins.
It's a trend Wisconsin is hoping will continue when it goes to first-place Illinois Sunday.